February 26, 2013

Of Daydreams and Harps, part 3: Guest post by Bratsche


I had one early adventure with my harp. A week after we got it, I was working outside when my husband came out to tell me that my harp sounds very resonant when a string breaks. Bother! I called Dusty Strings and they promptly popped a new string in the mail. When I bought the harp, they provided care and maintenance instructions, which included detailed directions on how to change strings. I have changed lots of strings on violas and violins over the years, so I knew I could change a harp string; but there was still an element of “let’s be very careful so I don’t mess anything up” about changing my first harp string. It all went well, and nothing else has broken since then.

I am finding it grand fun to have a harp in the house. It has been amusing to look over my own shoulder (so to speak) as I am learning to play the harp. I have been a teacher for long enough that I can see my progress happening even while I am in the middle of it. Things go even better when I remember to follow my own advice (go slowly, count out loud, practice the two hands separately, etc). The first December I had my harp, I discovered that if I concentrated REALLY hard I could actually play the melody of a Christmas carol I know well while singing a harmony part.* I wouldn’t do it in public any time soon, but it is a lot of fun to be able to play a duet with myself!

One of the things I wondered about when I was in the process of getting a harp was what it would be like to have two instruments I really like in the house. Frankly, I wondered if I would slight my viola in favor of my harp. It turns out that I enjoy my viola even more now than I did before. After playing my harp, I enjoy the ease with which I can play my viola. I like the pieces I’m playing on my harp, but being able to tackle “meatier” pieces on my viola is good too. On the other hand, my harp allows me to noodle around with different chords or large intervals that are harder to do on viola. I’ve written a few twiddles** on my viola over the years, and it’s fun to have another instrument with which to make up music.

There have also been a few unexpected pleasures about having a harp in the house. Its attractive shape adds grace to any room. In addition, my daughters enjoy playing on it from time to time. Most of the time, I enjoy hearing them and knowing they’re getting the fun of “fiddling” around on the harp. Every once in a while though, I’m not aware they’re going to play, and I get the added pleasure of hearing lovely harp sound*** in the house and then realizing “Hey, that is my harp, not a recording!” The final unexpected pleasure has been when I’m playing viola in orchestra (for work) and hear a harp behind me. The first time that happened, I was surprised by how strong my “I have a harp too!” reaction was; and that extra little glow of satisfaction still happens now, even after a couple of years.

My lovely harp

If anyone is ever considering getting a harp, I would highly recommend Dusty Strings.^ Everyone there with whom I dealt throughout this process was very friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. If you’re in the Seattle area and want to plink on a harp, hammered dulcimer, banjo, ukulele or any of their other instruments, stop by. You will be welcomed!

A final thank you is due to Robin and many people on her forums. Your enthusiasms for various hobbies were an additional encouragement when I was starting to try my daydream on for size.^^

– – – – – – – – – – –

* I’m an alto but have never worked hard enough at harmonizing by ear to be comfortable doing so; so it’s nice to practice singing the alto part (from the music) while playing the melody on the harp, even though it takes a lot more concentration than when I sing the melody and play the harmony.

** I hesitate to call them pieces, since they’re short (2 or 3 lines of music); but I bet that if they were someone else’s creations I would “of course” consider them “real” music.

*** A harp sounds lovely no matter what is being played, so it sounds good even if they’re just plucking random notes.

^ I would also highly recommend two of their harp accessories. The first is the custom tuning wrench. Having now used both the “regular” t-wrench and the custom one, I definitely like how the custom one feels in my hand and its ease of use. The second is their harp stool. I was already going to be spending so much money to get my harp that I was hesitant to add to the total by getting the stool. However, the people I talked to at the shop swore by it, and I decided to go for it. I have loved it ever since! It gets taken from room to room in my house on a daily basis and is my harp stool, sewing stool, computer chair, kitchen table chair, etc.

^^ Although I still have NO intention of ever re-learning to knit. ::ducking the ravening knitting hordes::


Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.